Exercising the body and mind is important for everyone, including man's best friend. Enthusiastic and full of energy, dogs can make great running partners, whether for companionship or accountability in your yearly fitness goals. But to be the best puppy parent possible, it's important to know how healthy your dog is and the type of running that is safest for it.
Your four-legged friends need daily exercise just like you do. And just like humans, American pets have a problem with pudge. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 54 percent of dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese, which can bring about multiple health consequences, such as reduced life expectancy, chronic inflammation, orthopedic disease and kidney dysfunction. Along with a balanced diet, walking or running together will help you both strive toward a healthier lifestyle.
Your dog's age should be taken into consideration before heading out on the trail. Don't start too young, as running on hard surfaces can damage a puppy's bones and joints that haven't fully formed yet. In one 2015 Health.com article, animal behaviorist Sharon Wirant is quoted as advising dog owners to wait until their dog's growth plates have began to close, a time frame that varies by the breed and size of the dog. On the other hand, older dogs can have some of the same bone-weakening diseases as elderly humans. Mikkel Becker, resident dog trainer of VetStreet, an online pet care and training resource, notes: "Running is high-impact, cardio-intensive exercise, and unless your dog has been cleared for this activity, he can be at risk for injury. Joint problems, like hip dysplasia, luxating patellas and arthritis, can make running painful or even impossible." Pay a visit to your veterinarian to know when it's safe to start or stop running with your pup.
All dogs love to run, but not all of them can keep up with their owner. There's a reason animal lovers cringe when they see a checked-out runner dragging a Pomeranian behind. So don't assume your dog is a runner; do some research about the breed. In a piece for Runner's World magazine online, Brian Dalek amasses the opinions of several dog experts, including a professional dog runner and the American Kennel Club, on which breeds are best. While there will be some variation within each breed and individual dogs, Weimaraners, German shorthaired pointers, vizslas, greyhounds, pit bulls and Labrador retrievers make great running partners due to their build, stamina, larger stride and personality. On the contrary, squishy-nosed dogs like pugs and bulldogs are prone to overheating and therefore don't make good distance runners. Even if your dog fits the profile of a good running buddy, use common sense and keep an eye out for signs of fatigue.
A benefit of running is that you can do it just about anywhere, but surface and weather make a difference in your dog's comfort level. There's a difference between "can" and "should," Becker says: Your dog can run on sidewalks and streets, but the hard surface can be tough on her body. Softer surfaces like grass and dirt are preferable. Just be sure to look out for stones and holes and other uneven surfaces. Additionally, heat can pose a danger. Scorching pavement can burn your dog's paws or cause dehydration. (And let's be honest -- who enjoys running in tiring heat anyway?) To avoid these predicaments, Becker suggests running early in the morning or late in the evening, and taking frequent water breaks.
Being informed and attuned to your dog's breed, condition or fatigue levels is essential to maintaining its health, especially since dogs cannot necessarily communicate clearly when they're in distress. Err on the side of caution, and let your dog run at its own pace. Fido will be grateful for the fun shared together.